As if we get that choice. All paths are untraveled until we walk them.
Choices? When I was 18, I had a choice to go to Cape May and spend the summer with my previous boyfriend (good sex, bad everything else) or marry my first husband (meh sex, but great conversation and social life) including a real opportunity to never have to spend another night under my parents’ roof.
I went with the husband. It was what they now call “a jail-break marriage” and it worked surprisingly well. I wasn’t the only one who needed the jail break. He needed to break out of his prison too. We urgently needed to make a life. We might not have been the most passionate of lovers, but we were very fond of each other. We had tons of shared interests and many mutual friends. We liked the same books and loved history, cats, and dogs. We even had the same taste in furniture and houses. We got along well and what we lacked in fervor, we made up for in affection and caring.
We meandered along for 13 years and if he had not been an alcoholic and so terribly depressed all the time, we might still be together — and he might still be alive. I don’t know if the alcohol and the depression were linked, but probably were. Back then, these connections had not been made.They hadn’t invented Prozac and going into rehab wasn’t a “thing.” So we meandered along, had a son and a life. Garry was his best friend which is how Garry became Owen’s godfather and eventually, his stepfather. It isn’t as complicated as it sounds if you realize that we were all really good friends.
Most of my life has been one or another kind of meandering. Over the years, maybe a handful of distinct choices got made and I am happy with how they worked out, though are often times when I wonder how the other option might have gone.
In some other world, I made other choices. I’d love to chat with the other me and find out how it went. But — never was there an option to choose the “less traveled” or “more traveled” path. That’s a poem, not reality. When we need to choose, all paths are equally untraveled.
For most of us, there also comes a time when we get to say: “Okay world, I’m up for something different” and we have an adventure. Every life deserves adventures. I hope you are having yours now — or delighted with the memories of those you had.
This seemed particularly appropriate for this birthday.
At age 71 — what happened? How many hours for how many different activities? I think I’ve had fewer baths and far more Netflix!
In a lifetime, you will produce enough saliva to fill anywhere between 180 to 360 bathtubs, cry 1745 times, and make 146,801,613 steps. This video from AsapSCIENCE takes a dive into things most of us will accomplish during our trips around the Sun. It’s pretty amazing.
Come, Sleep! O Sleep, the certain knot of peace,
The baiting-place of wit, the balm of woe,
The poor man’s wealth, the prisoner’s release,
Th’ indifferent judge between the high and low;
With shield of proof shield me from out the press
Of those fierce darts Despair at me doth throw!
O make in me those civil wars to cease!—
I will good tribute pay if thou do so.
Take thou of me smooth pillows, sweetest bed,
A chamber deaf of noise and blind of light,
A rosy garland, and a weary head;
And if these things, as being thine in right,
Move not thy heavy grace, thou shalt in me,
Livelier than elsewhere, Stella’s image see.
Sir Philip Sidney
I remember when going to sleep was simple. I changed into a nightgown or pajamas. I took off my jewelry. Brushed my hair. Brushed my teeth. Washed face and hands. Plumped up the pillow, pulled up the covers — and went to sleep. Sometimes, I read for a while … and then fell asleep.
Last night, I went to bed. I did the whole nightgown, hair, wash, brush thing. Of course. Then I adjusted our electric bed trying to find the angle which would give me the least amount of pain in my back while keeping me sufficiently upright to continue to breathe.
I then took the various medications I take before bed — some for blood pressure, others for pain, and one for actual sleep. That was when I realized my rash was acting up. Damn. I put some cortisone cream on it, but that didn’t do it. So I went into the bathroom and used the other, stronger gunk. I stood there for a few minutes waiting for the gunk to dry, then went back to bed.
I realized I couldn’t breathe. I used the daily inhaler. Still couldn’t breath. Used the emergency inhaler — twice. Breathing restored, I realized my eyes were dry enough to feel like I had gravel in them. I found the eye-drops.
“Ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch,” I said as the liquid hit the gravel. Garry couldn’t hear me. He had the headphones on and was deep in a western.
I tried another round of eye-drops. “OW!” I yelped. Two rounds of eye-drops later, the gravel had diminished. I realized I needed to do something about my incredibly dry lips. One round of chap-stick. Another round of chap-stick. One more round of chap-stick and by now, I’m wide awake. And my back was killing me.
I found the lidocaine cream. Applied it to my right hip. My left hip. Up and down the spine. Then — again — I waited for the most recent gunk to dry.
By now, a full hour had passed since I put on my nightgown and brushed my teeth. I had been sleepy, but by now, I wasn’t sleepy. Not a bit. I thought wistfully of those long ago days when going to bed was just … going to bed.
Worse, I still had to look forward to the thrill of getting out of bed. Convincing my legs and arms to wake up. Making sure my spine was going to let me stand up and hopefully, walk.
The getting up ritual is a whole other thing, starting with around four in the morning when I start readjusting the bed. Because during the night, my spine will congeal into a solid lump of misery. I have to decide what — if any — medication will help. I have to be careful because I can only take a specified amount. If I take meds at four in the morning, I can’t take them later.
You get the idea.
Sometimes, the complexity of going to bed then getting up — first for medication and going back to bed. Next, rearranging the electric bed, trying to go back to sleep, hearing The Duke hit the door, knowing if I don’t get up and give everyone a biscuit he’s going to keep hitting the door until the door breaks or I get up and do the “Good Morning, beloved Dogs” thing.
Nothing is simple. Especially not simplest things.
I haven’t written an introspective blog in a long time. I’ve written about things that have happened in my own life and stories about other members of my family. I’ve written a lot about the political situation in America and the social schisms it has created. I’ve written about my dogs and the weather and what I’ve watched on TV.
But I haven’t checked in with myself recently – and there have been some internal resets. Over the past six months, I’ve had some uncomfortable and inconvenient but not serious medical issues. I forgot how closely one’s mental state shadows one’s physical well-being.
Constant physical issues for months at a time can really take a toll, both mentally and physically. I was chronically exhausted. No energy for anything. That translated to demoralization and withdrawal. Doing anything outside of the house became a big deal.
I started believing that my life was seriously lacking in many ways. I fixated on those deficiencies and my glass suddenly became half empty instead of half full.
When I started feeling better physically, I could step back and see where my body had dragged my mind. I realized I had to turn myself off and then back on again. I had to totally reboot my attitude.
I realized that I am, in fact, fine as I am. My life is fine as it is. Is it what I wanted, ideally at this stage of my life? No. Is it where I imagined I’d be at my age? No. Is that bad rather than just different? No.
I wanted to be a grandmother by my age, with a life revolving to a great extent around my nearby adult child and my grandchildren. Many of my friends are ecstatic and devoted grandparents. But I’m not a grandmother. And the most likely child to give me grandchildren in the future lives in LA, 3000 miles away.
As a retired person, I expected to be part of an active and gratifying social life with my large group of local friends. But people moved away. My remaining best friends still work 60 hour weeks and have limited time to socialize. As a result, Tom and I spend a lot of time alone with each other.
But this doesn’t make my life bad or inferior or deficient. Just different than planned or expected. I can’t compare my life to other people’s lives. I can’t measure my life against my past expectations.
Am I actually happy spending most days at home with my husband and my dogs? Yes! Am I fulfilled reading, writing blogs and working on our Audio Theater Group? Yes! Do I love my wonderful friends spread all around the country plus England and Germany? Yes!
So I wake up happy every morning, looking forward to another quiet but satisfying day. I focus on what I have and who I share it all with. I’m good. I’m lucky. And I’m grateful. I just have to try to keep this positive outlook when my body throws me the next curve.
“Karen Lewis was fearless.” It was the opening line of her obituary on the Chicago Sun-Times website. The Chicago Teachers Union President had endured treatment for brain cancer in 2015. In October of 2017 she had suffered a stroke. She had surgery for a malignant brain tumor. Through it all she battled on, and was widely respected for her tenacity and survival.
It was no surprise that her death would highlight the courage of her struggles. There was just one little problem with the story as was mentioned on Lewis’ Facebook page, “Contrary to an unfortunate slip, I am not dead.”
Yes, the 64-year-old labor leader and brain cancer survivor is alive and living in Chicago.
Did you ever wonder how a periodical could publish a lengthy story on a famous person’s life just moments after they die? Obituaries for prominent people are usually written before their deaths. They may be updated from time to time and only need minor edits when a famous person finally goes to the great beyond (or wherever it is you think people go for an “after life”) . When celebrities drop dead, it is no time to start researching the details of their lives. Pre-written obituaries are a common practice. Publishing them while the person is still alive is not.
Few get to learn of their own death while they are still alive. Apparently Lewis took the error in good humor. The obituary, which was online for a few hours, was taken down before Lewis or family members had seen it. She did learn of the opening line, however. Apparently believing the long time Chicago publication would have to say nice things of the dead, Lewis commented, “I think it’s a mitzvah…but I’m not sure it’s true.”
“James Ross Clemens, a cousin of mine, was seriously ill two or three weeks ago in London, but is well now. The report of my illness grew out of his illness. The report of my death was an exaggeration.” – Mark Twain
While Mark Twain was on a world speaking tour in 1897, a London-based reporter was sent learn of the condition of Twain’s health. If Twain was dead, the reporter, Frank Marshall White, should send back 1000 words to the New York Journal. If alive, apparently 500 words would do. Meanwhile, according to legend, one paper had indeed printed an obituary for Twain. Was the great American humorist amused by this?
White wrote an article that appeared in the NY Journal in June of 1897. In part he said:
“Mark Twain was undecided whether to be more amused or annoyed when a Journal representative informed him today of the report in New York that he was dying in poverty in London …”
Twain had sent back in writing what is now an often misquoted response. Twain’s hand-written response is restated above.
What if your obituary appeared online? What would it say? Would it recount that you are “fearless?” Would it see you as a great humorist? Would it recount the highlights of your life? Or would there be little to say? Would anything written be supplied by relatives after your death?
If someone was charged with writing a thousand words about your life, and you could read them now, how would this influence you? If the words were kind and encouraging, would this lead you to a better life? Would you try to live up to the words someone was about to supply upon your death? Would you try to have all the qualities relayed about you? Would you try to build on that legacy?
What if the words were not at all flattering? Would that inspire you to change your ways? Would you have a Scrooge-like awakening and live a better life? Would you be more kind? More generous? More loving?
We probably do not think much about our own obituaries. Those who do not have much public standing in the community will not get much more than the standard newspaper notice that includes a list of relatives and the time of funeral services. But what if you have a little bit of notoriety? Do you care what is written as your legacy when you are gone? What influence would there be on your life if you could read your obituary as it would be published today?
Even without online or social media notices, or publication in the local or national newspapers, we will all get an obituary, so to speak, in eulogies at funerals or memorial services. If these do not exist for you (and why not?) then there are the comments of your family and friends when they gather to honor your memory. If cousin Lewis is likely to sing your praises, having been a drinking buddy and travel companion, Aunt Bertha might just come along and upset the gladioli cart with her honest opinions of your character.
Your homework assignment before we convene here again next Sunday is to write your obituary. Pick out the highlights and significant life events. Write it all down. Is that really what someone would write in your obituary? Seriously? If it is not exactly what you want, dear Ebenezer, it may not be too late to change, as the report of your death has been grossly exaggerated.
Sources: “Reports of Mark Twain’s Quip about his death…” thisdayinquotes.com May 31, 2015 “Karen Lewis See Funny Side Of Her Erroneously Published Obituary,” ChicagoTribune.com January 8, 2018
No vacation is perfect. Some part of every meal will not be ready when the rest of the dishes are served. Guests come early or late, leave too soon — or not soon enough. Complications, delays, bumps in the road are the companions to everything.
Then there are the things that almost happen. When I was recently back from Israel, I took a three-day weekend from my new job to visit friends in San Diego. I bought a new weekend carry-on bag. It’s still my favorite travel bag — and the bag was the best part of the trip.
I bought tickets to San Diego — not easy because most cross-country flights out of Boston go to Oakland, SF, or LA — none of which are close to San Diego.
I got to La Guardia airport, but the departing flight never arrived. After my connecting flight in Salt Lake City departed, there was nowhere for me to go. I asked for my money back. The perky young thing at the ticket counter explained, “These are non-refundable tickets. See? It says so right here. We can get you on a flight to Los Angeles tomorrow afternoon. How’s that?”
I was not feeling perky. “I took a three-day weekend from work. I won’t get those hours back. I’m not interested in Los Angeles or anything that goes anywhere tomorrow. LA is more than 3 hours drive from San Diego and I don’t have a car. By the time I get there — if I got there — I’d have to turn immediately around and come back. I’ve had to spend money on taxis and lost my holiday time. All I’ve gotten in return is a long afternoon in an airport waiting room. If you can’t get me to San Diego today — direct and nonstop — return my money.”
I got my money back. After which I took a taxi home. I spent the weekend having a mini-orgy of self-pity. I never went to San Diego. Eventually, I lost touch with those friends and life moved on.
Our fondest illusion is control, the belief we’re in charge or at least, ought to be. We spend a staggering amount of effort trying to wrestle life into our own shape. How else can we succeed? You’ve got to be in charge, right?
The promise we get as children is one on which we build a world.
No matter what you want, no matter how unlikely it is or how unqualified you are, just try harder and you will get it.
It’s the biggest lie because it establishes a fundamental belief that if we do all the right stuff, we will get what we want.
It’s got to be true because our teachers, parents — pretty much everyone — told us so. Good work will be rewarded immediately. Kindness will be returned in kind. If we eat right, keep fit, avoid drugs, cigarettes, and booze, we’ll be healthy. Forever. All the stuff that happens to other people will not happen to us because we are special. Mom said so. Dad said so. My sixth-grade teacher said so. My IQ test says so.
From all the little stuff that goes wrong — flights cancelled, vacations rained out, to failed marriages and jobs lost, life and time strips us of the illusions with which we grew up. Injustice shows itself in an infinite variety of shapes and sizes, from tiny indignities to incomprehensible calamities. No one is immune. We learn we are passengers on the bus we call life. We aren’t driving and don’t even know what road we’re on. Nor have we any idea of the destination or the stops along the way.
Finally, I got it. The bus is going where it’s going, but outside, it’s beautiful. We don’t have to drive. We don’t need to control the bus. Where we are going is irrelevant.
I am personally brilliant. I know this because at P.S. 35 in Queens, New York, I got a look at my I.Q. score which was so ridiculously high, it made me feel inadequate about the entire rest of my life. Discovering you are supposed to be a genius when you are ten can ruin the rest of your life.
All the other geniuses with whom I went to elementary school and thence Junior High, High School and eventually, college, became doctors and physicists. They studied law, became judges. At the very least, they made oodles of money. A few wrote novels … the kind that get published by actual publishers. A couple became Rabbis and others became Deep Thinkers and got jobs as professors where deep thinking comes with a salary and benefits.
I, on the other hand, messed around. I worked, but work never was my central thing. I wasn’t ambitious in any properly American sense of the word. I never expected to be promoted. I was surprised that I got paid so well. I might not have been ambitious, but I was really good at what I did, which was write the crap out of anything technical or sort of technical. Whether it was an article for publication or a manual for users, I wrote it and made sure anyone with half a brain could understand it. And I got paid to do it, which was nice.
Unfortunately, being the least corporate person on Planet Earth, I never got to work for the big companies where they did cool things like provide a pension. I worked for venture capital companies where someone had pitched a great idea and gotten the money to start a company. The companies inevitably lasted exactly as long as the money. When initial funding ended, they fired everyone who wasn’t a family member.
The owners went bankrupt which didn’t mean they were out of money, but rather that they reorganized and restarted under a new company name while the rest of us went job hunting.
So brilliant? Maybe, but what exactly does brilliant mean? It is no guarantee of success in the world. Brilliant may give you ideas and concepts, but it doesn’t necessarily give you business acumen or the kind of diligence you need to make an organization successful … or even make your own financial life a success. I am proof of how brilliance on an I.Q. test is just that. Great at taking tests … but as for the rest of life? That’s a different game entirely.
Yet — I’m a hell of a Trivial Pursuits player and I can write. I can even take pictures. And I can talk you to death. That’s sort of brilliant … isn’t it?